Between two Thanksgivings, Hannah's husband falls in love with her sister Lee, while her hypochondriac ex-husband rekindles his relationship with her sister Holly.
It all begins on Thanksgiving. Elliot (Michael Caine) longs for Lee (Barbara Hershey). This would be fine except for the fact that Lee is Hannahís sister (Mia Farrow), Elliotís wife. Feeling disconnected from his wife he falls head over heels for Lee, and pursues her tenaciously. Lee is in an interesting relationship with a tortured artist (Max von Sydow). The two have lived together for several years and have a student/pupil relationship where Frederick (Sydow) educates her about life, granting her wisdom. Unfortunately Frederick has isolated himself so much from human contact that he begins to rely on Lee for his only remaining link with reality. This is obvious when Lee leaves Frederick to pursue an affair with Elliot, in the hopes that heíll leave Hannah. Itís truly sad to see a grown man having the rug completely pulled from beneath him. Not only are we witnessing Frederickís heart shattering, but also his realization that he will be alone for the rest of his life. The affair continues, and Elliot still plans on leaving Hannah, but it doesnít happen. Elliot isnít able to leave his wife and Lee eventually falls in love with another man.
Hannah and her Sisters is written and directed by Woody Allen who plays Mickey, a television executive and Hannahís first husband. The film never shows how the two became married, but its clear the two were not mean to be together. Allen is in full neurotic mode, playing a hypochondriac. Every time Mickey is on screen a smile fills my face. Allen is a comic genius and every scene heís in itís clear heís in charge and telling the story the way he wants it to be told without having to cut any corners. The smile fades from my face when Mickey is confronted with the possibility of an actual serious life threatening disease. Heís eventually proven well, but the event has affected him. He puts his career on hold as he goes through an existential crisis, experimenting with conversions to different religions, such as Catholicism. This even leads to a suicide attempt, albeit a very funny one. A viewing of the Marx Brothersí Duck Soup helps Mickey realize that life is worth living.
Holly is Hannahís third sister. The least successful of the three, Holly struggles through the film with an addiction to cocaine and a rivalry with her friend and business partner April (Carrie Fisher). Sheís an unsuccessful actress who tries starting a catering business. Holly looses a man, as well as a stage role to April and decides to try writing screenplays. This career change, forces Holly to borrow money from Hannah, something that happens often. This dependency is one that Hannah welcomes and Holly resents. Holly writes a story inspired by Elliot and Hannahís relationship. Holly received all the information from Lee who in turn heard it from Elliot himself. Upset because of how much personal information the story contains about her and Elliot, Hannah disapproves it, which forces Holly to abandon it. Holly then writes a story inspired by her own life.
Did I mention that Mickey and Holly went on a date? Hannah had set him up with her after their divorce. Unfortunately Hollyís cocaine addiction and differences between the two ruin the evening. Fortunately Mickey runs into Holly again. Heís had his suicide attempt, and discovered a new love for life and sheís gotten her act together and written her script based on her life. The two get along much better than their last date. Holly reads Mickey her story and he loves it.
Back at another Thanksgiving family get-together everyone is in attendance. Lee has married the man she began seeing after Elliot. Elliot is happy with Hannah, and very happy he never left her. Holly has married Mickey, and Holly is pregnant, a feat that Mickey was told he would never be able to do. The same white credits that were at the start of the film appear, as does the familiar jazz music.
Woody Allen tells the story of his ensemble cast within the time of two years, beginning with one Thanksgiving, and ending on another. The film is broken up into three arcs, following the two sisters, Lee and Holly, Mickey, and the characters that surround them. We the viewer see everything and by the end of the film know more about each sister and their relationships than they know themselves.
Each scene is so pleasing, so entertaining. The filmmaking is absolutely seamless. Allen sets up various tracking shots that allow the characters to move around, interact with other characters and with their surroundings. More than just a fly on the wall, weíre there with the characters watching the heartbreak, the humor, and the act of life.
Love is really unpredictable says Mickey as heís moping around downtown New York, and the film takes this point of view as well. The film is not a comedy, nor is it a drama. Itís filled with sadness, tragedy, but it also contains hope, and belief. It is a very touching film and one of Woody Allenís best. Itís so rare when a filmmaker hits every note, crafting a wonderful film that is like Mickey says, unpredictable.